Following publication of a report, a country’s national health ministry set up a pilot study on two sites to examine the feasibility and acceptability of screening for infection X. The pilot study was co-ordinated by a national agency. It was agreed from the outset that the agency would lead on analysing data, co-ordinating any publications, and that the major publication output would involve both sites and the agency. The meeting at which this was agreed was not minuted. The pilot study data were submitted, with joint site/national agency co-authors (with the agency as lead author), to Journal A in April 2002. Drafts and the final submitted version were approved by both sites and by the national agency. The data were submitted in the form of two papers (1 and 2). The first was on the methodology and acceptability of the study, and the second on the prevalence and evaluation of positive cases. Just as the papers were submitted to Journal A, site 1 told the national agency that they had submitted their own data to Journal B in March 2002 (paper 3). Journal A rejected the two joint site/national agency papers and they were submitted to Journal B in mid June 2002. In late June 2002 the editor of Journal B spoke with the lead author of the joint site/national agency papers (1 and 2), and following this, asked the authors of paper 3 to withdraw their paper: they did this in early July 2002. The editor specifically mentioned the cross site issue and the fact that paper 3 seemed to contain similar data to one of the joint site/national agency papers. The two joint site/national agency papers were accepted by Journal B in October 2002 and published in February 2003. The site 1 authors then submitted paper 3 (virtually unchanged) to Journal C, where it was accepted October 2002 and published in January 2003. In February 2003 the editor of Journal B was contacted by a reader because of concerns about apparent overlap between one of the two papers in Journal B and paper 3 in Journal C. The editor felt the suggestion—that there was duplicate publication—was correct. The editor asked for three independent opinions (in confidence) from colleagues in the specialty. One of these was Journal B’s ombudsman. All three felt there was significant overlap between paper 2 in Journal B and paper 3 in Journal C. They also pointed out that neither of the papers in Journal B nor paper 3 in Journal C cited each other. The three papers had published literally days apart. The lead author is an overlapping author but the papers’ authorships are mostly driven by the site that the data come from. The editor of Journal B contacted the editor of Journal C as well as the corresponding authors of both the Journal B and C papers. It was difficult to contact the editor of journal C who was handing over to a new editor imminently, and he initially disagreed with the view that there was duplicate publication. Apparently, the authors of the site 1 paper told the editor of Journal C that they had withdrawn their paper from Journal B and were submitting a “different” paper to Journal C. A copy of the version withdrawn from Journal B was sent to the editor of Journal C: the withdrawn and published papers are virtually identical. The corresponding author of the joint site/national agency papers published in Journal B was contacted and provided a full and detailed account of events, backed up by copies of emails. He was unable to explain why—when all authors knew of the plan for the joint submission to Journals A then B, and had from an early stage seen drafts—paper 3 had been submitted to Journal B (ahead of the joint site/national agency paper) or to Journal C (when the joint site/national agency papers were under review with Journal B). The corresponding author of paper 3 published in Journal C was contacted. This author did not reply, but a response was received from two other authors on behalf of all the authors at site 1. This stated: 1. The authors felt that the emphasis and message in the two papers were different and there was not “significant duplication”. 2. They mentioned at the time their paper was submitted to Journal C they did not know the citation for the papers in Journal B. 3. They added that the editor of Journal C knew that there were other papers due to be published in Journal B. 4. They stated that “the publication of two different papers in two different journals with different readerships on “x” screening must surely be beneficial if the basic messages reach more readers. ” 5. Finally, they stated that “We are more than aware of the ethical considerations, as several of our members have sat on LREC and national agency ethics committees. ” The editors are concerned that the duplicate publication will skew data on the screening of x condition and that there is now a situation of dual quoting of data. What should the editor of Journal B do next?
_ The editors have an obligation to pursue this issue further, by writing to the authors’ employers, informing the authors of their intention. _ The editors should request a detailed notice of all action taken to investigate the matter. _ Journal C’s editor should publish a simultaneous notice of duplicate publication. _ The editors should contact the new editor and also the publisher of Journal C. _ Given that Journal C published just a few days before Journal B, who should be responsible for retraction? COPE felt that a notice of duplication would be sufficient as this would be picked up by Medline. _ The editors should publish a notice of duplicate publication in their own journal and write an editorial aimed at educating authors on the issues such as authorship, duplicate publication, correct citation, and salami publication.